Not Half Bad

Any chance to celebrate is one worth taking, as is evident by the profusion of often dubious national holidays. Adding a touch of whimsy to the monotonous daily routine, marking a date as something special to anticipate, the reason to rejoice is not actually important. Those moving targets simply provide a convenient excuse and a general focus for unscheduled merriment. As silly as National Splurge Day sounds, I still can’t be too mad at it for the joy it must bring a select few. If you have the means and the inclination, why not?

While I’m probably the worst person to consult about commemorating a real momentous date on the calendar, such as my own birthday, I can fully appreciate the potential it holds. It somehow figures that my half-birthday, a real non-event if there ever was one, tends to get more attention.

No matter how many years and months I tack onto my own age, certain things never get old, such as the love of chocolate chip cookies and brownies. Since it’s my half-birthday, I had half a mind to make something special which resulted in this half-and-half mashup of the two. Baked brownies that emerged from the oven with an impossibly lustrous, glossy, crackled crust seemed almost too beautiful to cover up, but it was too late to pull back on the reins by then. Buttery raw cookie dough smothers the entire sheet pan, more decadent that plain whipped frosting yet not nearly as tooth-achingly sweet.

I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I have to admit, these exceeded expectations. First of all, they’re completely gluten-free, which is not my strong suit when it comes to baking, and secondly, there’s no refined sugar. Rather, these decadent treats employ coconut sugar to evoke the nostalgic flavor of earthy molasses, further enhanced by the roasted notes of coffee in the brownie batter. In fact, if you can’t make it past that base and just call it a day with the Best Vegan Brownies Ever©, I won’t blame you one bit. When you want to pull out all the stops and really celebrate life, no matter the real occasion, this dessert is for you.

Half-Baked Bars

Best Vegan Brownies Ever:

1/2 Cup (3 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/2 Cup Hot Coffee
2 Cups Coconut Sugar
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
2 Cups Oat Flour
1 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts

Cookie Dough Topping:

2 Cups Vegan Butter
1 1/2 Cups Coconut Sugar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 1/4 Cups Oat Flour
1 Cup (6 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a good length overhanging the edges to form a sling. This will make for easier removal later on. Lightly grease and set aside.

For the brownie base, place the chocolate chips in a large bowl and pour the hot, freshly brewed coffee on top. Let sit for a minute to begin melting the chocolate before stirring. Stir vigorously before introducing the coconut sugar. Continue mixing until smooth, dissolving the sugar and fully melting the chocolate. Pour in the oil and blend until homogeneous.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the oat flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Ensure that there are no lumps before adding the dry goods into the bowl of wet. Add the vanilla and nuts last, and mix thoroughly until there are no remaining pockets of flour or cocoa. Don’t worry about over-mixing because there’s no gluten here, so go crazy!

Transfer the batter to your prepared pan and bake for 24 – 26 minutes, until the top is crackled and glossy, and the interior is still just slightly moist when a toothpick is inserted into the center. Cool completely before proceeding.

To make the cookie dough topping, cut the butter into small cubes before placing them in your food processor. Add the sugar and pulse to combine, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed. Add the vanilla and salt next, blending thoroughly to incorporate. Introduce half of the flour to begin with, allowing the machine to run until its fully integrated. Add the remaining measure of flour and puree once more.

If you’d like to keep your chips on the chunkier side, stir them in by hand. I like mine a bit more broken down and random in size, so I toss mine in last and pulse until the pieces are more or less evenly distributed throughout the mixture. It will be very soft, like frosting, at this point.

Spread the cookie dough topping over the cooled brownies in a smooth, even layer. Refrigerate the whole pan for 2 hours for more even, clean slices, or cut and serve right away if you simply can’t wait.

Makes 24 – 36 Cookie Bars

Printable Recipe

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Sweeter by the Dozen

They say it’s your birthday
It’s my birthday too, yeah

As I struggle to stitch together the right combination of words on yet another post, I find that The Beatles sum up the general premise quite nicely in just a few simple words. My biological birthday was last month, but today is the day that BitterSweet turns twelve years old, an implausible, unbelievable milestone that I find myself celebrating with an even greater fervor. This humble little corner of virtual space has become so inextricably linked with my identity over the years, growing and contracting, morphing and evolving, persisting against all odds, that it really is my own birthday, too.

Let’s not get too mushy here, but there is a deep debt of gratitude that I do owe to you, every last one of you, that has dropped by to comment, like, pin, tweet, re-gram or re-post. That encouragement, reassuring me that I wasn’t just blogging in a vacuum, that there genuinely was interest in my crazy experiments and rambling thoughts- That is what allowed BitterSweet to not only survive, but thrive. It’s because of you that I found my true passion in life, made a career out of it, and continue striving to create and circulate all those adventures (and misadventures) along the way.

It’s given me the opportunity to make friends all across the globe, to connect with people I would otherwise never meet, to share some of my favorite things and find many more. It’s on that note that I’d like to introduce you to one more incredible small business poised to make a big splash…

Noosh turned out to be the sleeper hit on my list of new brands showcasing their wares at the Winter Fancy Foods Show last month. Hidden in a small enclave off to the side of the main floor, wedged into a tiny booth among many, I almost walked right on by without a second glance. How many different types of almond butter do we really need, after all? Just like granola bars and protein powders, isn’t the market already saturated with more options than we know what to do with? Yet somehow I was charmed, drawn in by the slick packaging and straightforward ingredient list. It’s pure, creamy almond butter, but so silky smooth and naturally sweet that you could almost call it almond nectar. In fact, I’ve taken to drizzling it liberally over my morning oatmeal instead of using maple syrup. Since that fateful encounter, I’ve grown increasingly smitten with the stuff, packing my bags with the single serving pouches in case of almond butter emergencies on the go.

As marvelous as the original and chocolate are, this is just the start. Not yet on the market but previewed at the show, I’m not kidding when I say that the Birthday Cake Almond Butter might just be life-changing. Yes, it is THAT good. It’s a challenge to slowly ration out my current supply until it officially hits the market, opening up the flood gates to unimpeded nut butter-based cake indulgence. Whereas many snacks promise a cake-like flavor, doomed to fall terribly short by comparison to the real thing, Noosh actually delivers. I don’t know how they do it, and quite frankly, I don’t want to. There’s a certain magic in that delicious mystery.

Inspired by that fresh-baked flavor and determined to stretch my limited stock just a little bit further, I couldn’t help but turn it into another cake facsimile. Rich, soft, melt-in-your-mouth bites of fudge both look and taste so much like the genuine article, you could easily get away with serving these at your next big party. Comprised of little more than almonds, coconut, and maple syrup, these adorable miniatures will satisfy your sweet tooth without inciting a sugar coma, even if you do indulge in seconds- or thirds.

Mercifully, the tortuous wait for a fresh supply of that ambrosial almond elixir is almost over. After much needling and prodding, I’ve been assured that this incredible flavor will finally be ready for purchase within the coming month. Best of all, so cheered by my irrepressible enthusiasm, Noosh has offered to send three readers a package of their very own, as soon as it’s available. What better way to celebrate a blog birthday than with presents, and of course, cake?

To enter, all you need to do is leave me a comment. If you’re a longtime subscriber, tell me how long you’ve been along for this wild ride. Have you tried any recipes over the years, or do you remember way back when BitterSweet was primarily about the knitty gritty of more crafty ventures? If you’re new to these parts, introduce yourself, say hi! What brought you here, what got your attention?

Log this and additional entries to improve your odds on the official giveaway page until Wednesday, February 14th at midnight PST. Win or lose, don’t forget to come back for the recipe which you’ll want to celebrate all year, every year.

Cupcake Fudge

Cupcake Fudge Base:

1/2 Cup Noosh Birthday Cake Almond Butter
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Butter
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Chocolate Fudge Frosting:

1/2 Cup Noosh Chocolate Almond Butter
3 Tablespoons Melted Coconut Butter
2 Tablespoons 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1 Tablespoon Cocoa Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt

Garnish (Optional):

Edible Glitter and/or Shimmer Spray

Begin with the cupcake fudge base: Simply mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl until smooth. Spoon the liquid fudge into small fluted cup silicone truffle molds. Let sit for at least 30 – 45 minutes, until completely solidified. Pop them out of the molds and keep them in the freezer.

Meanwhile, prepare the frosting by going through the same process of blending together all the ingredients, spooning the mixture into spiral (as pictured) or small dome silicone truffle molds and place on a flat surface in the freezer. Let rest for 10 – 15 minutes until they begin to set but are not yet entirely firm.

Take the finished cupcake fudge bases and gently pressure them into the soft frosting fudge. Return the molds to the freezer to allow them to finish solidifying. After 30 – 60, they should be ready to pop out all in one cohesive piece.

Garnish with edible glitter(s) if desired. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to a month… If you can manage to stay away from them that long, that is.

Makes 20 – 22 Cupcake Fudge Truffles

Printable Recipe

Love is in the Air, and in the Kitchen

Now that the salty, savory extravaganza of Super Bowl Sunday is out of the way, Valentine’s Day looms large on the horizon as our next big food affair. Though terminally single, I’ve come to enjoy the event as an opportunity to show friends and family that I care, inevitably in the form of something edible. Though my best suggestions do skew heavy on the chocolate, there are still many lovely, lighter options to cleanse your palate. While you still have time to plan, take a peek at some of my favorites that have hit the blog in years past.

Whoever said that you can’t win friends with salad never sat down to a plateful of lovingly carved heart-shaped strawberries atop tender artichoke hearts, crisp endive, and buttery spears of hearts of palm. Yes indeed, my Heart-Felt Endive Salad is all that and more, living up to the name in more than one way.

This Roasted Red Pepper Soup is quite the blast from the past, so pardon the terrible photo! Though the recipe itself is nothing earth-shattering, the technique of swirling tiny sour cream hearts can be applied to any smooth, pureed soup you care to serve. A little extra effort goes a long way, so you can effortlessly score some extra brownie points by taking a minute to go all out on the garnishes.

Moving on to the main event, Blushing Beet Pierogi are a more subtle way of showing that you care. In hindsight, I wish I had cut these little potato and pasta pouches into the shape of hearts to reinforce the theme, but you can learn from my mistake! Do it up right and really wow your loved ones!

Starting with something light for dessert, fluffy and refreshing Frozen Strawberry-Balsamic Souffles are ideal for those with a penchant for fruity treats. Each ramekin presents a bright, bold contrast between sweet and sour, hitting all the high notes with nary a boring spoonful from start to finish.

When words fail, say it with cake. Show your heart with a stunning slice of Hidden Heart Wild Blueberry Cake. For a truly impressive unveiling, bring the whole cake to the table and cut it right in front of your beloved. Sure, it’s a bit more intricate than your average pound cake, but the extra effort will be worthwhile for the lasting impression those sweet shapes will leave.

Okay, you’ve waited long enough; steel yourself for the chocolate onslaught. Let’s start simply with Cherry Hot Chocolate Spoons. Don’t lock yourself into just one flavor destination though; consider this a guideline for further exploration. Try adding in a touch of orange zest, or using freeze-dried strawberries instead of cherries. Take out the fruit altogether and stir in some peppermint extract and crushed candy canes for an extra breath-freshening bonus (hint hint!)

Flourless Chocolate Cake is a classic, and though predictable, it never gets old. Dark, rich, and decadent, this version is for chocoholics only. The real danger is that it’s so easy to whip up, you may not be able to contain your love to just one special occasion for indulgence. Try it once, and it could easily become an everyday affair.

Keep your cool with another frozen treat: Pomegranate Ice Cream Pops. This quick fix novelty is simply blended and thrown into silicone molds, no churning necessary. Leave out the lollipop stick to make frosty chocolate-covered truffles, or throw that creamy pomegranate base into any popsicle mold you might have on hand. As long as you don’t omit that crisp chocolate shell, you can’t go too far wrong.

Of course, if all else fails, just bake a pan of brownies and call it a day. No one would be mad at that.

Choc-A-Lot

Valentine’s Day might as well be called Chocolate Day. At least, that’s the primary significance it holds in my life. Through relationships both good and bad but primarily experienced as a single lady, the date has held little real significance in my life, other than as an opportunity to indulge my inner chocoholic.

Debate the merits of this consumer-driven “holiday” all you want, but as long as I can sink my teeth into some dark, decadent truffles, that’s the next best thing to true love, if you ask me. Thankfully, indulgent options abound for the discerning palate, transcending the boundaries between plant-based and mainstream artisan products. If you’re inclined to lose your temper or have a meltdown over the DIY approach, there are endless options available for purchase, guaranteed to steal your heart.

Emphasizing quality ingredients hasn’t necessarily correlated to healthier products nor whole foods in the past, but the newest wave of master chocolatiers seem to be just as concerned with nutrition as they are with flavor. Though it may sound like a concept incongruous to truly luxurious chocolate experiences, Nicobella will be the first to prove that misconception wrong. Crafting their confections with coconut oil and sourcing flavor infusions from whole fruits, herbs, and spices rather than extracts, each morsel sings with a bold, clean taste. Some combinations can be a bit unconventional, such as the sunflower butter banana, but you won’t find a single bad bite in any assortment. Snappy dark chocolate gives way to creamy soft centers for each distinctive truffle, all softening to liquid cocoa bliss on the tongue. You can’t help but become instantly smitten.

Finding a true edible gem right under my nose, I was stunned to discover Coracao for the first time at my local farmers market. Sweetened with coconut sugar and bolstered by superfoods like maca and lucuma, these are treats with benefits that could still rival the finest of gourmet selections. Salted caramel sparkles with the crunch of flaky salt, striking a perfect balance between sweet and savory, hitting all the pleasurable high notes of this classic combination right on target. The most famous confection, however, is the Berkeley Bar, and for good reason. A layered composition of nutty caramel and a soft, malty nougat, all enrobed in their dark bittersweet chocolate, it’s truly something special.

Valentine’s Day makes for a convenient excuse to splurge a bit when it comes to dessert, but these incredible chocolates shouldn’t be saved just for special occasions. Treat yourself well, and often, with quality cacao.

Mocha Me Crazy

Crispy edges shatter upon the most tender, tentative of bites, giving way to a gently chewy interior rife with toasted nuts. Sweet, but balanced by the naturally bitter nuances of coffee and dark cocoa, this riot of flavor and texture all comes in a modest, unassuming little bar. While most holiday cookies are lavished with bold frosted jewels and colorful sugar crystals, the prettiest confections would be hard-pressed to compete with such unvarnished indulgence. Most would dub such an accomplishment as a resounding baking success, so it might come as a surprise that the whole lot of them was almost destined for the trash heap.

Though glorious in their own quiet sort of way, these treats were born of much loftier aspirations- Literally. Back in the very early stages of aquafaba awareness, many crazy experiments were carried out in the name of science, and sweet tooth-fueled cravings, of course. Admittedly, the frustration of failure has darkened the memory of their origins, so it’s hard to say exactly what I had intended while dutifully whipping chickpea brine into submission. A seriously nutty sponge cake, perhaps? Regardless of intention, the results fell flat.

Trying hard to salvage the thin, brittle sheet of confectionery matter, I picked up the pieces and dutifully went through the motions of styling and photography, but remained dispirited. If not for certain interlopers that kept swiping errant crumbs and strongly suggesting that a proper taste test was in order, the recipe would have immediately hit the digital dust bin. Thank goodness for that persistence which saved a new family favorite.

Rising from the ashes and crumbs, I’m pleased to finally present these Mocha-Nut Bars as part of Rodelle’s 2017 Holiday Cookie Campaign. Pooling together some of the brightest (and sweetest) minds in the blogosphere, there’s no shortage of sugar or spice here. In fact, the master bakers at Rodelle have taken it upon themselves to ensure that, and have generously offered to provide their unrivaled baking cocoa for many more rounds of delicious experimentation.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Enter to win one of two 8-ounce jars of this superlative baking cocoa by telling me in the comment section: What has been your most delicious recipe “failure” or mistake to date? Log your submission and find more ways to enter though the official giveaway form.

Baking, as with most things in life, doesn’t always go exactly according to plan on the first try. The only real mistake, however, would be letting those challenges prevent us from finding entirely new successes in the process.

Mocha-Nut Bars

1/2 Cup Toasted Pistachios, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Cashews, Chopped
1/2 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped
1/2 Cup Almond Meal
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1/3 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Teaspoons Instant Coffee Powder or Granules
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Aquafaba
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3/4 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9×9-inch square pan.

Mix together the nuts, almond meal, confectioner’s sugar, cocoa powder, flour, instant coffee, salt, and baking soda. Make sure there are no clumps, and that all the ingredients are well distributed throughout before proceeding.

Place the aquafaba in the bowl of your stand mixer and whip on high speed for about 10 minutes, until light and fluff. Slowly add in about half of the dry mixture, mixing gently until incorporated. Fold in the remaining half by hand using a wide spatula. Add in the oil and vanilla last, stirring as little as possible to keep the batter nice and airy.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the top is glossy (but not wet) and slightly crackled in appearance. Let cool completely before slicing. Store in an airtight container for 3 – 5 days.

Makes 12 – 16 Bars

Printable Recipe

Batter Up

Dumping, stirring, scooping; it was a hard job. Such were the demands of a fledgling baker, still too young to read the recipe and too small to reach the kitchen counter without the assistance of a stepping stool. Measuring ingredients was a task just slightly more advanced than my skill level, but diligently, carefully, I took pre-portioned scoops of flour and sugar, adding them to the mixing bowl with earnest precision. At the age of five, it was impossible to understand the alchemy that would transform these raw, unappealing components into my favorite treat. The magic started well before the batter ever hit sheet trays, though. Even better than the finished chocolate chip cookies themselves would be the reward for all my painstaking efforts: a lick from the beater or bowl, still coated in unbaked dough.

Golden and slightly granular from the coarse brown sugar, those morsels were the ones I savored most. Though each piece of the appliance was thoroughly scraped before being surrendered for my inspection, more than enough remained to sate my sweet tooth. Looking back, those errant chunks and chips left behind within the tightly coiled metal whisk may not have been so accidental, after all.

A love for cookie dough was fostered at a very young age, from some of my very earliest memories of cooking with my mom. It seems to be a common thread across almost all demographics, even for those who learned to bake later in life, that raw cookie dough evokes a certain nostalgia. Unpretentious, undemanding, its inherent simplicity is all part of the appeal. Especially when the heat of the oven loses its appeal through the steamy summer months, it’s difficult to resist the urge to skip baking when you could just as easily dive in with a spoon.

If you can delay gratification just a little bit longer though, I have an even cooler way to appease those childhood memories. Cookie dough pudding pops, with all the familiar flavors in a creamy, frozen package, may become the new nostalgic sweet treat.

Toasting the flour brings out the subtle nutty, roasted flavors imparted by baking, without the same intense heat. The base is otherwise prepared the same as any other cooked custard, so if you can stir a pot, you can whip up this buttery brown sugar pudding in no time. In fact, you may be tempted to eat the plain pudding prior to its trip to the freezer, and I wouldn’t blame you. Just try to leave a little bit for the popsicles themselves; you’ll be grateful to have them on hand (and in hand) the next time a craving strikes.

Cookie Dough Pudding Pops

1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Chocolate Chips

Begin by lightly toasting the flour in a dry skillet. Place the skillet over medium heat and continuously, gently stir the flour, until faintly golden brown all over. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the non-dairy milk to form a thick paste, beating out any lumps before proceeding. Continue to add in the remaining non-dairy milk and whisk vigorously to smooth out the mixture. Incorporate the sugar, vegan butter, and salt, stirring well. Cook, stirring periodically, until bubbles break regularly on the surface and the liquid has thickened significantly.

Turn off the heat, cool to room temperature, and then let rest in the fridge until thoroughly chilled. Stir in the vanilla and chocolate chips before transferring the mixture to popsicle molds. Place in the freezer and let rest until frozen; at least 3 hours.

Yield will vary depending on the size of your molds.

Printable Recipe